The American Hairless Terrier – Loving and Feisty

The American Hairless Terrier is a small to medium-sized dog with a lively, intelligent, and affectionate nature. Their classification in the feist group is a testament to their strong will and fiery temperament.

American Hairless Terriers can trace their ancestors back to one hairless Rat Terrier, Josephine. Rat Terriers were among the first descendants of the original feist breeds. Considered feists themselves, Rat Terriers were sought for their proficiency in killing rats and other vermin.

The American Hairless is one of the few terriers whose main purpose has been as a companion animal rather than a hunter. Although they do not perform well in the field because of their lack of coats, they possess the energy and prey drive characteristic of a terrier.

An American Hairless Terrier needs proper socialization and plenty of exercises. Well-raised, the American Hairless makes a devoted pet that is good with children and other dogs.

Summary of American Hairless Terrier

Personality smart, lively cuddle seekers
Size 5.5 to 26 pounds
Life Expectancy 14 to 16 years
Exercise Requirements at least 30 minutes rigorous
Good with Children? Yes, these are the perfect family pet
Grooming Requirements Regular bathing and moisturizing is necessary
Health Challenges Healthy; luxated patellas, allergies, sunburn
Easy to Train? Among the Easiest of Terriers

The AHT stems from a long line of ratters. The original ancestor was a hairless Rat Terrier puppy named Josephine born to a litter of fully-furred siblings.

Josephine had three hairless puppies over several years. Two from her last litter were responsible for the foundation of the American Hairless Terrier breed.

The AHT possesses most qualities of the parent breed such as a small muscular frame, wedge-shaped head, V-shaped ears, a clever and sociable demeanor, a loving nature, and a strong predatory drive.

American Hairless Terriers come in two varieties, one being hairless and the other with a similar coat to the Rat Terrier. Hairless dogs sometimes have a very fine down. Coated dogs carry the hairless gene.

Colors can be sable, black, grey, gold, blue, or brindle. Dogs can be speckled or dual colors. Hairless dogs are pink where a haired dog would be white.

Highlights and Facts About the American Hairless Terrier

  • Toy-sized to medium dog with lots of energy and natural curiosity
  • Strong proficiency for killing rodents
  • American Hairless Terriers need at least 30 minutes of exercise daily with a good romp and plenty of mental stimulation
  • The American Hairless has a loving nature and is eager to please, making it easy to train for a terrier.
  • There is a hairless and a coated variety. The hairless dog needs regular bathing, protection from cold weather, and precautions against sunburn.
  • American Hairless Terriers enjoy children and the company of other dogs.
  • The American Hairless is a healthy dog with a long life expectancy of 14 to 16 years.
  • Despite their ease of training, the American Hairless Terrier needs early socialization for a well-adjusted approach to unfamiliar situations and strangers.
  • American Hairless Terriers sweat through their skin, unique in the canine world.
  • Precautions – In addition to vulnerability to sunburn, American Hairless terriers are not good swimmers. Hairless dogs are much more vulnerable to injury during ratting, so many experts recommend you exclude them from such events.
  • The hairless variety has whiskers and eyebrows.

Origins and History of the American Hairless Terrier

A relatively new breed, the American Hairless Terrier originated from one Rat Terrier born in 1972 in Louisiana. This Rat Terrier was unique in that she was the only one in her litter born hairless.

Fanciers continued to select for dogs with smooth skin, giving rise to the American Hairless Terrier.

American Hairless Terriers retain most of the characteristics of their Rat Terrier ancestors which originated in England around the 1800s to help eradicate rats. However, breeders of the American Hairless Terrier sought more of a companion animal than a vermin hunter. The result was a dog with somewhat less intensity and energy than the Rat Terrier.

Nevertheless, make no mistake about the American hairless Terrier’s ability to kill rats. Rat-exterminating contests are an important feature of American history, and competitions featured both the Rat Terrier and the then hairless variety. However, the lack of a coat highlights the vulnerability of American Hairless Terriers to defensive injuries by their prey.

Originally, registries recognized the American Hairless as a variation of the Rat Terrier. The United Kennel Club registered the first American Hairless Terrier as a separate breed in 2004. As of 2016, the American Hairless Terrier breed became a member of the American Kennel Club.

Breed Size

American Hairless Terriers are classified as small or medium. They stand 12 to 16 inches tall at the shoulder. They can weigh anywhere from five and a half to just over 25 pounds proportionate to height.

American Hairless Terrier Personality

The American Hairless Terrier is smart and engaged, alert, and energetic. It is an inquisitive breed that likes being involved in what you are doing. A member of the feists, American Hairless Terriers are playful with a feisty personality.

While the American Hairless is lively, it is also quite loving. It does not like to be left alone for an extended time.

The breed is not aggressive by nature. American Hairless Terriers usually love children, especially if they are part of your family. These terrier breeds are usually sturdily built and can withstand the rough play of kids.

The American Hairless also gets along well with other dogs and even cats. Pet owners should use caution around kittens and cats that are extremely small because the terrier predatory instinct will kick in.

American Hairless terriers do not do well with tiny pets like guinea pigs or mice. Their drive to eradicate rodents and any other potential “vermin” remains high.

Not only will an American Hairless Terrier kill small animals, but it will be relentless in its quest to hunt the quarry down. Any American Hairless Terrier can quickly destroy your house or yard in its pursuit.

This terrier makes a good watchdog, an excellent alert system for intruders and guests alike as well as suspicious activities. However, they are not aggressive, large, or strong enough for guard duty.

Like any breed, the American Hairless Terrier has various personality types. Some are more reserved than others. Most warm up to strangers relatively quickly and are eager to make new friends. The more people who can shower them with the affection they crave, the better.

When your dog is still a puppy you will need to socialize it so it gets used to all kinds of situations and different people. Despite its feistiness, biting is uncharacteristic of the breed. Skittishness is an unacceptable trait for a terrier.

You may be able to get a good idea of your puppy’s personality if you visit his birth home before acquiring him. Observe the parents, if you can, because some qualities are genetic while others the pup may learn by observation.

See how the pup interacts with his litter mates. Often only the mom will be present, so take the opportunity to watch her for shyness or unwarranted aggression.

Check out your puppy for dominance or submission among his siblings. All your findings can give you clues to future personality and trainability.

Health and Life Expectancy

In general, American Hairless Terriers are healthy. Like any purebred dog, the American Hairless is susceptible to a few health concerns.

You can incorporate a basic health screen in your search for a puppy. Conscientious breeders obtain certifications in areas they know are genetic trouble areas for the breed.

The AKC keeps a list of relevant genetic tests and certifications under each registered breed. Breeders can record the results of any certification when they register their dogs.

Luxating Patella

Luxating patellas are common in small-breed dogs but can also occur in medium and larger canids. The kneecap pops readily out of position in dogs with this orthopedic condition.

Usually, the kneecap glides smoothly up and down in a shallow groove as the leg bends and straightens. Abnormalities in the tibia bone and the ligaments of the knee cause displacement.

American Hairless Terriers with luxating patellas show intermittent lameness or a characteristic skipping gait when the kneecap dislocates. As the kneecap goes back into place, the dog returns to normal walking and running with no lameness.

Some dogs require surgical intervention for luxating patella, while others live with it. A luxating patella may be an occasional inconvenience or can lead to soreness and arthritis.

Hip Dysplasia

Most people think of hip dysplasia as a problem of large-breed dogs. The truth is many dog breeds struggle with bad hips. Hip dysplasia is a developmental disease with genetic and environmental contributing factors.

In dysplastic hips, the ball of the joint, the femoral head, does not fit perfectly into the socket because of joint looseness or laxity. Joint laxity is genetic in many dogs and eventually leads to a flattened femoral, cartilage damage, and pain.

American Hairless Terriers can suffer from hip dysplasia, but the condition may go unnoticed for some time because of their small size. Moreover, obesity can exacerbate hip dysplasia in a dog with genetic markers that may not have otherwise shown any symptoms.

Hip dysplasia has multiple genetic components. The best way to attempt to lessen its impact on a breed is to X-ray all breeding dogs at the age of two years. Breeders would ideally neuter dogs with questionable or worse hips. Luckily, hip dysplasia is not exceedingly common in American Hairless Terriers.

Legg-Calve-Perthes Disease

Another disorder of the hips, Legg-Perthes is a painful process whereby the femoral head loses circulation and the bone dies. However, surgical correction restores comfort, and function.

Legg-Calve-Perthes is common in toy and terrier breeds. Most puppies start to show symptoms between five and eight months of age.

Heart Disease

American Hairless Terriers can start to suffer from mitral valve disease around eight years of age although a few may have a murmur most of their lives.

Bleeding Disorders

American Hairless Terriers can suffer from hemophilia or von Willebrand’s disease. The disorder causes abnormal bleeding secondary to failure to produce an essential clotting factor.

All American Hairless Terriers should receive a blood test to determine bleeding times before surgery unless they come from genetically-screened parents. Many affected dogs are asymptomatic unless they experience trauma or undergo surgery.

Lens Luxation

A hereditary problem common in terriers, lens luxation is where the lens moves either forwards or backward out of position. Such displacement is possible due to the weakness of the ligaments around the lens. American Hairless Terriers can receive a screening for this condition.

If the lens falls forwards, it can lead to fluid blockage and increased pressure in the eye, or glaucoma. Lens luxations require surgical intervention.

Liver Shunt

A liver shunt occurs when blood vessels bypass the liver, not allowing for the filtration of ammonia. Many times a liver shunt is congenital in the AHT. Signs are neurologic and can include circling, disorientation, head pressing, and seizures.

Liver shunts can be managed surgically or medically. Prognosis depends on the severity of signs and whether a surgical correction is possible. Medical management is long-term and can be challenging.


Surprisingly, the AHT is not prone to many skin problems. The terriers do have skin allergies which you will readily see. Hairlessness allows for early diagnosis and treatment of skin conditions.

Cushing’s Disease

Cushing’s is an endocrine disease that affects dogs usually over eight years old. Common early symptoms are drinking and urinating much more than usual. It can involve a tumor on an adrenal gland, but in the American Hairless, the abnormality is usually on the pituitary gland.

Diagnosis and treatment of Cushing’s is complicated, but affected dogs can live a relatively normal life for years.

Health Screening

The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, or OFA, recommends several health screenings for breeding American Hairless Terriers. Breeding dogs who pass all certifications join a special registry which you can look up when looking to purchase a puppy.

  • Cardiac evaluation
  • Eye evaluation – CERF
  • Hips – OFA radiographs or PennHip test
  • Elbows
  • Patellar luxation
  • Legg-Calve-Perthe evaluation

Breeders can also screen their dogs for congenital deafness through a BAER test and for elbow dysplasia, but both these tests are optional or the American Hairless.

Life Expectancy

The American Hairless Terrier, similarly to the Rat Terrier, lives from 14 to 16 years.

Hairless Terrier Care

American Hairless Terriers share in common with others in their group an energetic attitude and a desire to be busy.


The American Hairless may not be quite as energetic as some of its close relatives, but it is still easy to underestimate its activity requirements.

Thirty minutes a day is the minimum time you should set aside for exercising your dog. Most of these terriers will do even better with at least an hour of exercise each day. Breaking up exercise sessions into 15-minute intervals over a 24-hour period is usually of the greatest benefit.

Exercise should be a combination of strenuous high-intensity running and playing, interaction with you, mental stimulation, training, and winding down.

The American Hairless is reputably easier to train than other terriers, but it still has a stubborn streak. Another challenge is keeping a terrier’s interest. Mix it up with different goals all the time so your American Hairless does not become bored.

Typical of terriers, your American Hairless will run off if you give it the opportunity. American Hairless Terriers enjoy your company, but if a scent or quarry attracts them, they are quickly gone. An unsupervised jaunt can be detrimental to their exposed skin.

Coat and Grooming

Despite its name, the American Hairless has a coated as well as a hairless variation. A coated dog has short but dense, sleek, and shiny fur much like a Rat Terrier. It requires minimal brushing.

Hairless pups are born with a thin covering of down that they begin to lose at about six weeks old. The AHT needs regular baths every week or two with a mild canine shampoo that will not dry their skin.

Part of the reason AHTs require rather frequent baths is that they need an application of sunscreen before going outside. Make sure to use a veterinarian-sourced sunscreen.

Although the American Hairless has no tufts of hair like the Chinese Crested, it usually retains eyebrows and whiskers.

Along with bathing, you also need to pay attention to your American Hairless’ ears, wiping away any excess wax and checking for signs of infection.

Both coated and hairless varieties should get a nail trim every two to eight weeks. Train your dog early to tolerate brushing its teeth and handling its feet.


Most AHTs will be between 12 and 16 pounds. Not accounting for the extremes at both ends, you will feed your American Hairless about a half to a full cup of high-quality dog food split into two meals.

A precise measurement that includes the five-pounders and those dogs over 20 pounds is to feed by the calorie requirements. You can find the conversion of measuring cup to kilocalories on the dogfood label.

For a moderately active American Hairless Terrier, feed 30 to 35 calories per pound. For a more sedentary dog, you may only need to feed 20 to 25 calories per pound. A highly active dog, such as an AHT who performs agility trials, may require up to 70 calories per pound.

Whatever method of measuring food amounts you choose, you will have a base where you start. Then adjust the volume of food up or down depending on whether your pet is losing or gaining weight.

Your top priority in your choice of food should be quality. Either consult a veterinarian or nutritionist for assistance or become proficient at reading dog food labels. Dogs require proteins and fats for healthy nutrition. Dry foods will have carbohydrates as well.

Your AHT does not absolutely need carbs, but the domesticated dog has evolved the ability to extract useable energy from them.

Be cautious of any sensitivities your dog may have. Some terriers do better on a grain-free diet while others maintain weight better if they eat corn. Some dogs are sensitive to a myriad of ingredients like wheat, milk, eggs, soy, and beef.

Another alternative is a homemade or a raw diet, which is not necessarily the same thing. Work with your veterinarian to ensure you provide balanced vitamins and minerals.

Raw diets may work particularly well for American Hairless Terriers with challenging conditions like Cushing’s disease.

Children and Other Pets

AHTs enjoy children if you socialize your dog well and she becomes accustomed to young people. American Hairless Terrier can get rowdy in play. You will need to monitor play between your dog and any children under the age of nine years.

Use caution with very small puppies as they are still pretty fragile. Dogs that are five pounds will play as hard as their larger counterparts, but will not be able to sustain roughhousing from large kids. It can be easy to step on a very small dog no matter how nimble it may be.

That being said, the adult AHT is small but very muscular, solidly built, and agile.

American Hairless Terriers are not aggressive with other dogs or pets unless they see them as prey. As a general rule, an American Hairless is safe with dogs and cats that are near its size or larger.

Rescue Groups

American Hairless Terriers are relatively easy to live with, but occasionally they find themselves without a home. Sometimes, people are not ready for a dog or are ill-equipped to handle the energy, feistiness, stubbornness, and persistence of a hairless terrier. Or new dog owners may be overwhelmed by skincare issues.

Rescue groups have formed to help surrendered, unwanted, or abandoned American Hairless Terriers to transition to new forever homes. They foster dogs during the interim, ensuring they have proper care, and educate new families about the breed’s unique needs and characteristics.

Since the American Hairless Terrier is not yet that common, it is difficult to find a rescue specific to the breed. One place you might look is Bald Is Beautiful which deals with the American Hairless and other hairless breeds like the Chinese Crested. You can also check with your local resources, such as the American Hairless Terrier Club of America, for reputable rescue organizations.

The best way to a happy dog that the entire family can enjoy is thoroughly informing yourself on the breed before making a final decision. See if the tendencies of an American Hairless Terrier fit with your lifestyle.

The American Hairless Terrier is a good family pet that requires consistent company and supervision. As a typical terrier, her predatory instincts are strong and she will want to chase squirrels and dig for moles.

More obedient and attentive to you than other terriers, an American Hairless will still have times when he may tune you out for something else that catches his attention. He will require moderate exercise and will always have to be on a leash or within a fenced-in yard.

If your dog is hairless, she will require a strict bathing routine. She will need clothes during the winter and sun protection at all times. If you are up for these challenges, an American Hairless Terrier can be an endearing and wonderful pet for the moderately active family or individual.

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